Monday, February 25, 2008


NCLUG has been booked for DGXPO. Here's some quick info (there will be more when official announcements are made):
Wikipedia List of LEGO Computer and Video Games
DGXPO website (with countdown!)

I will be reprising my history display (with changes to make it more on-topic), and I'll also be bringing Creator, LEGO Island, Bionicle, and Star Wars themed models. I'll have some schedule stuff to work out (Saturday mornings in June are prime yard sale time) but I should be able to be there for most of our show (and I'll be in to set up as well).

The great thing about this is that it's specialized, but it's still very much a general display. Between fan-released software and videogame mods, and the sheer amount of official LEGO games, CAD software, and robotics kits available, there really isn't much of anything not relevant to the digital gaming theme. The list of video games linked above doesn't include Mindstorms/Cybermaster/LDraw/MLCAD/rendering/Track Designer/From the Vaults/DACTA/etc, so there's even more space to play around with that hasn't been outlined there.

EDIT: This is news from yesterday's NCLUG meeting. I'll post more about the meeting when I get around to uploading the pictures.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

LEGOPalooza - Saturday

I was a bit slow getting out of the house on Saturday - I didn't actually get to the Planetarium until nearly noon, even though I had been trying to get there for 10. Fortunately, everything worked well with the Aquazone layout, the history layout, and the plates for the town engine shed. There were also a few more people who pitched in to get the town/city set up. Even though the road layout was just about done and most of the houses and such had been set up, the train layout still needed to be worked out.

At this point, the train was starting to look a bit scary. There were a ton of loose cars and loose parts on the floor, and it wasn't really clear who brought what or what went with what anymore. With only 45 minutes until we opened to the public, we still had to figure out how many trains we could put on the layout and finalize where the track would be going. I wound up setting up trains until about a half hour after we opened to the public. Having extra parts out with little kids around, though, meant that we kept getting asked to get different trains running. Matthew wound up taking requests to get one train at a time going on the outer track while I tried to finalize the inner tracks and figure out which trains to put out. Matthew wound up swapping trains throughout the day, and it went pretty well overall.

I spent a good deal of time manning the Aquazone and history displays. At some point on Friday, a large mosaic of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble went in between the two, so I wound up explaining the PicToBrick software to a few people too. The kids responded pretty well to both displays, but I had to explain what Aquazone was to most people. I guess "failed LEGO themes of the 1990s" isn't taught in schools these days. I did have one kid who had obviously read up on the topic come up to me and ask me where my bad guys were. That was embarrassing - I had been hoping that the little kids didn't know my sets well enough to spot the missing parts (although I had wound up not putting out the Crystal Scavenger set for similar reasons, which are a bit embarrassing to put in writing). Even though most people didn't "get" the theme (quite a few people didn't even get the "Finding Nemo" bit or the "Octopus' Garden" either), everybody seemed to like the light up cave, lit-up base, and lit up ships. There was even one kid taking video of my motorized sub.

The strangest part of manning Aquazone and history came when some kids got out of one the Planetarium's paid courses and saw Aquazone first. I explained that the Aquazone sets were from the 90's, and since these kids didn't realize yet that my other display was mostly based on stuff from the 60's, the kids were saying "so that's OLD!". Their parents found this as funny as I did.

Quite a few people were surprised by my lamp in the history display. Apparently most of them hadn't seen the Sopwith Camel set before, either (to be fair though, it is a rather-impressive looking set). I wasn't sure how many people would really stick around to read the poster, but quite a few actually did - maybe a third of the people who came by. I had to take a few parts out of my LEGO logo mosaic at one point to convince people that it was really built and not printed on. Several parents recognized some of the older sets and parts on display, and quite a few kids seemed really interested in it. The people who stuck around the longest were people who didn't really have any clue about this stuff though - we had quite a few people come in who were obviously just curious UNC students. I got the impression that they didn't realize that it had been 50 years since the LEGO brick had been patented. Now that i think about it, though, I'm not sure that anybody commented on my "50" sign or the slice of birthday cake.

I was surprised by how excited the kids got about some of the newer sets. Once I realized how much attention the three Bionicle sets I brought were getting, I decided to grab some more for Sunday (naturally, I have two or three whole collections of Bionicle that I've bought at yard sales, so grabbing an impressive-looking pile of sets is pretty trivial).

A few people complained about the lack of non-Star Wars space sets this year (I get the impression that people thought I'd be a safe guy to complain to since the sign and poster looked a bit "official" - and besides, what fan of LEGO history doesn't love Classic Space?). I decided to bring in a small spaceship for Sunday too. I did have a few people who were wondering about whether or not their kid could join NCLUG too (I tried to dodge the question, mostly - I didn't really know what the rules were on kids joining NCLUG until we sorted it out online the week after Palooza). The coach of the Apex FIRST LEGO League team gave me his business card too - apparently they're interested in doing a display too (I need to get back to him and let him know what he needs to about joining the group, though).

I was going back-and-forth between town and history/Aquazone for most of the day. I did get some pictures in, but Joe insisted I use his camera instead once he saw me having a hard time getting good shots. I only got in a few dozen shots, though, before I was needed to keep an eye on some displays again. We were pretty busy for most of the day, and every time paid courses got out, we had another wave of people come in (I probably noticed this more than most because I had the wall directly outside the part of the ballroom where the "challenge courses" were going on).

After closing on Saturday, most of us went to a pub in Durham. I didn't particularly care for the place, to be honest. It was a bit hard to follow the conversation, too, and we had a large enough group that it made sense to switch ends of the table a few times to try to catch everything that was going on. After dinner, everybody raced to Target and Toys'R'Us to browse the LEGO selection. I didn't buy anything (and I even got lost on the way to TRU!), but that was fun.

That was a bit of a long night though, and I was planning on being there as early as I could on Sunday to set up a Bionicle display (and believe it or not, we still had a few town things we wanted to fix).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

LEGOPalooza - Setup on Friday

When Friday, February 1st rolled around, I still wasn't entirely ready for LEGOPalooza. Most of the poster still had to be done. Carin stepped in to build the NCLUG sign (I know I should have made a little sign to credit her as the builder for that - sorry. That's her sign in all of the photos of my display), which freed me up from a rather large project that I wouldn't have been able to have ready in time. I had been hoping to start heading out towards Chapel Hill fairly early in the day, but that wound up not happening because of how long the poster took to finish. I wound up eating lunch before I left in the afternoon.

Oh, and did I mention that I had to get gas on the way out? Mom's car had been in the shop (so I had to pick that up on Thursday) and because mum had been out-of-commission since falling in the garage the previous weekend, I had to pick the car up and get fresh gas in it to take it to Palooza. Of course, we had drizzle outside on Friday too, so suddenly I had to find coverings for all of the open-top containers that I had packed.

Things got better once I finally got on the road. I was able to get to the Planetarium without any problems thanks to some new directions from Google Maps (last time I went up to the Planetarium parking lot at UNC was for a Nickel Creek concert in 2006, and I got lost on the way there).

Unloading went pretty well. I had a really light load compared to some of the more seasoned NCLUG members, so I was able to get to setting up fairly quickly. There's a bit of a twisty route between the parking lot and the ballroom where LEGOPalooza is held, but everything got in just fine. Joe Meno (editor of BrickJournal magazine, who we're lucky enough to have as an NCLUG member right now) was there setting up the tables and he helped me bring stuff in.

Joe Meno had brought a few things for the history display too - and they were all great additions that caught a lot of attention. He had a large wooden box with a variety of vintage pieces from the early 60s. I didn't really have a chance to look through it until Saturday, but there were a ton of easy-to-spot signs in there, as well as parts from the first Esso Station set and the very first lighting elements (which were missing the battery box, so we have no idea if they still work or not). Joe also had an awesome Formula 1 set from 1975 and a helicopter from the early 70s that was apparently very popular back in the day (quite a few parents told me that they had that one when they were little). Joe also had some official history of LEGO literature that he picked up last time he was in Billund, and he brought some print versions of earlier issues of BrickJournal too (BrickJournal was an online-only publication when it was first launched and is only now going into print).

There was plenty of other exciting stuff getting set up around the room, too. Joe Meno had gotten us the new Green Grocer set (which comes out in March and is a must-have kit with a ton of great details - I could probably write a small book just about all the neat ideas and parts in that set). The Green Grocer was a mere rumour at the beginning of that week - the first photo of it was leaked on Tuesday, and apparently NCLUG and another group doing a show that weekend in Belgium were the first to display it publicly. I'm a bit behind on the impressive newer town sets (they're great sets but they are a bit expensive, even if they are actually cheaper-per-part than the smaller sets are), so I also had my first chance to get a good look at the Cafe Corner set on Friday too.

Set-up at my display was fairly uneventful. It took a while to get the electricity hooked up (I had brought my lamp, and I also needed enough cable set up behind my display to reach the various electric things in the Aquazone layout). Once the electricity stuff was done, I set up my history table. I used one of my Coke trays as a riser, but besides that I was able to squeeze everything onto just one table (Of course, I had moved on to one-and-a-half tables by the time we opened on Saturday, and I took up two full tables by the time we opened on Sunday...) Somewhere along the way, Joe Cool lent me a build-in-a-bag for the history display too.

Setting up the Aquazone stuff proved a little bit more complicated. Joe Cool and Joe Meno were both bringing Aquazone stuff too, and everyone built more than they had originally expected too. At one point, I had dry-ran all of my pre-built sets and original models as a separate layout, but shortly after that we settled on putting the Neptune Discovery Lab set on one side of Team Joe's layout and setting up the rest of my sets and models on the other side. This looked great, but it did present a new electrical challenge that wasn't resolved until the next morning - I had added lights to both the Neptune Discovery Lab and the Shark's Crystal Cave (the latter required hollowing out most of the original set so that the lights would show through windows in what were originally separate chambers). I had brought one train speed regulator for all of my electrical needs in the Aquazone layout (which included those two sets and an original Aquashark sub that I rigged with motorized propellers and a fiber optic unit), so I had to bring in some extra cables on Saturday to get the whole thing going. I'll post more later about the lighting process, the motorized sub, and the other original sub I came up with (it could take months for me to get around to writing all that, though, and I doubt that as many people will find it interesting).

With the Aquazone stuff ready, I moved on to Harry Potter. Even though I'm not a Harry Potter fan, I actually have a decent-sized collection of it by now because of two HP collections that I bought at yard sales this past summer (which had about 8 sets total in them (including the castle), 5 of which were complete (the rest I'll use for parts)). I had modified a pair of Hogwarts Express cars to look "runnable", and those went towards Jen's displays (Jen builds dioramas of scenes from the books and movies). She only wound up using one, but it still came out pretty well. I put four other sets over in the display that Sabrina's mom (sorry, I didn't catch her name!) was doing, too, but it turned out that we both had brought those sets (so next year I should probably leave mine at home).

You'd think things would slow down once I had prepared all the displays that I was "really" contributing to, but things actually got busier for the rest of the night. It took me a few minutes to get my Carribean Clipper ready for the Pirates display (I know that I have a ton of other (and later) Pirates sets too, but that was the only one I had ready). After that, I went to put some of my road plates in the town/city, which was already starting to shape up (the Cafe Corner-Market Street-Green Grocer trifecta had already been snapped in and a few other sets and original models were out too). Sabrina's mom had built an awesome fire station from scratch - I'll have to find some more photos of it somewhere, though, because I don't have any good pictures of the interiors (which were extremely detailed). I was just about done putting roads in front of houses and such when Matthew came in with a few city blocks pre-built. The city blocks looked good and worked into the layout easily enough.

The next big change was that Matthew had brought in a spectacular train station of his own design. On the Yahoo! group, nobody had expressed interest in doing a train, so I had assumed that all of the train stuff that I was bringing "just in case" wouldn't be used - but once you have a great train station, you kind of have to set up some train track. Once I started taking track out, train sets, buildings, etc. just started coming out of the woodwork. Matthew (who doesn't even own any 9V trains of his own) somehow wound up in charge of setting up several trains in a much larger layout than anyone was expecting. I wound up being a sort of "train guru", and I was over there helping out quite a bit on all three days. By the end of the night, we had two rounds of track set up, completely encompassing the town layout, the Spongebob Squarepants layout, and Sandy's Eastern architecture-themed models (which, by the way, are also really good, but required a hefty amount of special-parts-ordering). I wound up setting up my Train Engine Shed, but we ran into some trouble because I hadn't brought the baseplates for that set (I brought them in on Saturday, though). We actually didn't finish setting up the town layout on Friday - but a big part of that was because we were waiting for Carin to show up (and somehow, none of us knew quite what she was bringing).

Carin showed up with a few pre-assembled models for the town and a large pile of unopened sets that needed to be built. She had the new 50th Anniversary Town Plan set assembled too, which was exciting to see (that's also on my list of current-sets-I-have-to-get). We wound up using the table that was set aside for Mindstorms displays to do a group build - I think most of us got to build at least one set there. I got to build one of the newer train stations (which was nice enough, but I still prefer my Metro Station set that's still packed away somewhere) and I also built two of the new fire/rescue sets. The group build lasted well into the night. I didn't actually have a chance to stop and eat - I just started building with one hand and eating pizza with the other. I was surprised at how good I got at opening the boxes and bags with just my left hand.

By the time that the end of the night rolled around, I had a small list of little things that needed to be brought in for Saturday. I still had to make the smaller signs for my history display, and there were a few little things (like the wires and baseplates I mentioned earlier) that I needed to add for town and Aquazone. A few people were worried about the way that my history poster was hanging off of the table a bit, so we decided that I'd have to reorganize my table on Saturday morning too.

The Planetarium more-or-less kicked us out on Friday night, leaving plenty of work left to do for Saturday morning before the crowds showed up. That's another post, though.

LEGOPalooza background

This is some background info on how I got involved with NCLUG. It's intended for friends and family members who aren't familiar with LEGOPalooza, LUGNET, etc.

I first became aware of the online LEGO hobbyist community in late 1996. Browsing through detailed models (or MOC's, which stands for My Own Creation) was one of the first things I learned to do online. Before long, I was also using the early online databases to look up sets (today's databases are much better though, and now we have access to set reviews and set inventories and such too).

I did not join NELUG (New England LEGO Users Group) because they do not allow kids in and because I was worried about the travel time to get to most of the things they were doing. That was before they started doing more events and such in NH. Things were starting to pick up for the LUG out in Seattle when I was in the area, but with my age and such, it still didn't make much sense to get involved right away (also, every event of theirs that I found out about had bad timing that kept me from getting to it).

When I first moved to North Carolina, I decided to check online to see if I could find a LEGO Users Group or LEGO Train Club. LUGNET claimed that both existed, but had dead links for both groups. I assumed that both were defunct until Mum came across a NCLTC display in December 2006. By then, Mike Walsh had fixed the NCLUG and NCLTC websites, and I started to follow them. I had been planning on going to LEGOPalooza 2007 as an attendee, but the timing did not work out for me. I found out that fall that I could join the group by joining a Yahoo! Group (Yahoo! Groups are essentially glorified online mailing lists) and then showing up to some meetings.

The first NCLUG meeting I went to was Carin's NCLUG Christmas party. This went really well. We did a parts-swapping activity called a "draft", which I'll probably explain here next time it comes up. There was already a good deal of excitement about LEGOPalooza 2008, and it seemed like people were asking me what I wanted to bring to Palooza almost as soon as they caught my name. We had a guest from a LUG in Taiwan with us that week too, and she showed us a DVD of the last major event the Taiwan LEGO Users Group had done. There were a lot of great models and ideas in there, but one that stuck with me was the outer wall that they used to explain the history of their group and of the LEGO Company.

After the major ideas had been thrown around online, I settled on trying to get most of my "Aquazone" sets back together in time to contribute to Team Joe's underwater display. I also settled on running a LEGO history display myself - featuring a poster with brief background and a variety of sets and models I had built over the years.

Mum didn't let me take any of her old LEGO sets out of the house, so my vintage 50s/60s/70s parts and models are all based on various yard sale finds I've had over the years. One more recent yard sale trip also got me quite a few more Aquazone sets, including the remainder of the Aquashark line (I am missing a few people though, and a part here or there, but it looks pretty nice set up on a shelf anyway). I also sorted through some other recent yard sale finds to gather up some sets to contribute to other displays and find enough parts to build a few new original models (I'll write more about those later).

We finished most of the major planning at a NCLUG meeting at Brier Creek in January 2008. From there through Palooza, things are fairly well documented on this blog.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

LEGOPalooza photos

I'm still not done winding down from Palooza, but I do have all of my photos up on Brickshelf now. You can see them (organized by day) at . Joe Meno has a bunch up on Flickr too, some of the setup on Friday and some of the event on Saturday and Sunday. Part of the reason that I didn't have too many photos on my camera is because I took some with Joe's camera on Saturday and I took over the Mindstorms table for a bit on Sunday so Joe would be free to take more photos. I'll probably explain a bit more of what's in some of the shots when I get around to blogging about the event.

Oh, and if you're here because you know me personally and you haven't seen me in a while, you should know that I've since gotten a much-needed haircut and that one of the photos on Joe's camera is the least flattering photo ever taken of me (I have a feeling that I'll regret making that a link).

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Post-Palooza Winding Down

Palooza ended today. I'll probably post pictures and some stuff about how many people were there in the next few days. If I get really ambitious, I might post some instructions and text from the history poster. I doubt I'll be able to squeeze much in before Thursday, though (plenty of "real" work to do).

A few important notes:

I checked against some photos that I took before leaving for Chapel Hill, and I do have the correct road plates now.

Carin's NCLUG sign is living at my house right now. I'll bring it to whatever the next NCLUG thing is. I'm hoping we'll be at a library or somewhere else where I've heard we "normally" are - it's hard to get as much LEGO talk in at a bar or restaurant.

I seem to be missing one piece of 9V cable that I borrowed from a Mindstorms kit. I'm hoping it will turn up once we all start unpacking things.

The Bionicle display was added on Sunday morning. I'd like to see about making this an "official" collaboration with the little kids - it's much easier to just ask them to stand the Bionicle things up and make the "good guys" fight the "bad guys". Besides, I still have no clue what the story lines are. They're just gearboxes with goofy things to me.

The photos I took of the packed boxes came out well, and I have about 60 good shots of the event (some from both days and the set-up on Friday). I'll try to have those up on Brickshelf sometime this week.